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iPhone’s Next Iteration? The iTricorder

It only had a blink-and-you-miss-it moment in the new Star Trek movie, but Dr. McCoy’s trusty medical scanner, the Tricorder, is a cornerstone of Trek lore — wielded like an all-seeing crystal ball and waved like a magic wand. And now, the 23rd century device is within our grasp as two new innovative devices are making the possibility of wireless medical scanning a reality.

The first is AirStrip Technologies’s new iPhone application, Airstrip Critical Care, announced yesterday at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. This new application is capable of live-streaming a patient’s medical data — including heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and virtual real-time wave-form data — directly from hospital monitoring systems to a doctor or nurse’s iPhone. That means if your doctor is say, on an away mission with Captain Kirk, he can still keep track of your vitals with the touch of a screen.

Of course, there are subtle differences between the Tricorder, which itself detects and identifies any known diseases or injuries, and the app which simply relays the data. But the iPhone does has the advantage of matching the sleek futuristic aesthetics of the hand-held Trek device. And for real on-the-scene portable scanning, well, modern science has that covered too.

The recently developed Standoff Patient Triage Tool (SPTT) can gauge a person’s pulse, body temperature, and muscle movement from up to forty feet away. Using lasers to measure vibrations in the head and chest, the SPTT can take a fast reading, and allow a doctor at an accident scene (or again, on an away mission) to determine which patient is most in need of immediate care.

“Human nature is to pay attention to the person who is screaming and bleeding,” says Greg Price of the Department of Homeland Security, which is helping devolop the device, “but someone else with a less obvious internal injury may need to be the first priority.”

The SPTT is slightly larger than McCoy’s Tricorder (and the iPhone) and has a number of limitations, such as the inability to measure blood pressure and oxygen saturation — key triage information in both the 21st and 23rd centuries. Indeed, NYU’s Chrosopher McStay argues, “The technology is not ready for primetime now.” But he will admit that it has “potential for future applications” — and he’s not talking as far ahead as the final frontier.

Between the two breakthrough devices, one can’t help but wonder if the medical community is on its way to creating a fully functioning Tricorder worthy of placement in the Enterprise’s sickbay.

But then, what do I know? I’m a blogger, dammit, not a scientist.

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